For me, it has been interesting to see that before I defined the steps of the Zig Zag Principle, my business model was that I would succeed one out of three times. In fact, I would create three businesses, consciously telling myself, “Okay, of these three, one is going to fail, one is going to be mediocre, and one is going to turn into a multi-million dollar business.” I figured I was batting about .333 with a series of strikeouts, easily caught pop-ups to left field, and hits that scored. Frankly, having played some baseball, I was feeling pretty good about my average. But, in looking back, I’ve realized I was zig zagging, just without any real structure or discipline. Ever since my moment of clarity, I have been consciously applying the formal structure of the Zig Zag Principle, and my success rate has dramatically increased. My partners and I have now had four out of five successes—an average I’ll take any day.
As I’ve considered this revelation, I’ve come to realize that the Zig Zag Principle has its roots in the laws of nature, with evidences everywhere we look. Rivers don’t flow in a straight line from mountain springs to the ocean. They twist and turn as they adapt to the things that would impede their flow. Mountain peaks are formed by the violent acts of nature, which leave no straight shots to the top. So much of the beauty we see in nature is the result of its forces carving out paths that must wend their way around never-ending obstacles.
My family and I are avid hikers and love to climb mountains. We’ve scaled summits in the Rocky Mountains and in the Himalayas. In all our years of climbing, we’ve never been able to actually climb straight toward the peak. Instead, just as my son learned as he skied down the mountain, we’ve had to hike the switchbacks in order to reach the top of the mountain. In the process, we have found ourselves going around large canyons and cliffs, often hiking in directions opposite to the summit.
We have also found, while hiking in the Himalayas, that it is important not to gain altitude too quickly. Those who do often succumb to high-altitude sickness and even death. Although it seems counterintuitive, much of the time you actually have to lose altitude and hike away from your goal in order to stay healthy, gain strength, and gain the altitude needed to get to your destination. As I have become more seasoned in both business and life, the lessons of the Zig Zag Principle have finally begun to sink in. Life and business are complex and often messy, and there are always going to be bumps, dips, twists, turns, and detours along the routes we choose to pursue. It is unrealistic to think you can just charge directly at a goal without injuring yourself or others. Adjustments and course directions are required.
I have an associate who has been extremely successful at racing directly toward his financial goals. He is charismatic, focused, business savvy, and driven. At the point I became acquainted with this man, he was well respected, a pleasure to be around, and an integral part of the community. Soon after, though, he became obsessed with becoming wealthy. In fact, he openly proclaimed that he would achieve his financial goal at any cost. In his pursuit to do so, there were marked changes in his demeanor and in his approach to life.
Within five years he had accomplished his goal of becoming the wealthiest individual in our community. But at what expense? His relationships with his spouse, children, and trusted associates totally vanished. He lost the love and respect of nearly everyone around him. Now, when his name is spoken in public, people recoil. Why? Because he ran roughshod over anyone and anything that attempted to divert him from his goal. Did he achieve success? Yes (at least for a time). Was his financial success worth barreling down the mountain with wild abandon? No! The end victory proved hollow and meaningless as he left behind the important things of life that he could and should have enjoyed. I would contend that he could have been successful in all aspects of his life had he traversed his way down the mountain instead.
The more effective and rewarding way of achieving long-term goals is to zig zag toward them. It is hard work in both hiking and in business, but the vistas and rewards are, without question, worth it.